Corporate Crime - Is There Such a Thing?
I have trouble with the concept of corporations commiting
crimes, and with the idea that we can punish a corporate entity.
I think only individual humans can commit a crime, and therefore
only individual humans should be punished. How do you "punish"
an organization anyhow? The idea is flawed.
When we punish a human for behavior that is criminal he might
learn not to repeat it. But is it the same with a corporation?
Not at all. In fact, when we fine companies for dumping waste
illegally or for falsifying their accounting, we often just encourage
such behavior. Yes, I am suggesting that punitive fines and judgments
for corporate crime make matters worse.
How could punitive action against corporations make them more
likely to commit crimes? Because with fines we make a real crime
into a simple business calculation. Once we have done that, it's
all about the numbers. For example, if a company can save a million
dollars annually dumping waste illegally, and the fines they
pay are typically a few hundred thousand dollars each year, the
numbers work, and the practice will continue.
Is there a better way to stop criminal activities that originate
from within corporations? I think there is, and it is a simple
idea: Prosecute the actual criminals and put them in jail. Companies
don't commit crimes--people do. Those individuals who made the
decision to commit a crime or knowingly went along with the crime
should be put in jail. Do this and corporations will stop doing
so many illegal things.
Of course it makes sense to fine a company or sue it for recovery
of actual damages caused. If someone's water supply is tainted
by a corporate decision to dump toxic wastes, by all means make
them compensate the victim. But skip the punitive part. Just
punish the decision makers. There really isn't such a thing as
corporate crime after all--only humans commit crimes.
The whole issue of corporate crime can get more complicated
than my few paragraphs suggest. But my intention was only to
get readers thinking in new and more productive ways. With that
in mind, here are a few questions to ponder:
1. Is it fair to make anonymous shareholders pay punitive
damages for crimes committed without their knowledge?
2. Is it possible that the whole structure of corporations
as legal entities could be changed in some fundamental and useful
3. Is it ever accurate to say that a "company" committed
If you find this topic interesting you might want to read
our page on corporate welfare